BOSTON — Chloe Kim's gold medal winning snowboarding run and charismatic personality made her the unquestioned star of this year's Olympics. But it didn't take any longer than her arrival at the post-victory interview podium for her to demonstrate another reason why global brands are going to be knocking on her door.
As a Korean journalist asked a question in the host country's language, the interpreter began to translate into English. Kim politely waived the interpreter off and said "I've got that."
You see, Kim is multi-lingual. As a second-generation American whose parents immigrated here from South Korea, she grew up speaking both English and Korean. She's since added French to her repertoire.
Now, you may ask what Kim's multi-lingual status has to do with Massachusetts schools? The answer involves the Seal of Biliteracy program that the state voted to implement in November.
For Kim, her language abilities are an added bonus to her celebrated status as a gold medal winner. But for students in Massachusetts and across the country, second language abilities are becoming perhaps the most marketable skill for them to master.
In today's global economy and multi-cultural society, companies are increasingly seeking multi-lingual staff to better communicate with employees and customers.
The importance of language skills goes well beyond that specific need, however. A study by no smaller tech company than Google revealed that the skills most indicative of whether an employee would be successful had nothing to do with math and science. In fact, among the eight most significant qualities of successful Google executives, STEM skills came in dead last.
The most important indicators of a successful employee involved so-called soft skills — including the ability to communicate, have empathy for fellow colleagues, and problem solve. Companies know those are all skills that language learners have been shown to demonstrate at significantly higher rates. Their ability to communicate and empathize is heightened. They become stronger critical thinkers. And they synthesize more complex ideas.
That's where the Seal of Biliteracy program comes in. These Seal programs allow students who attain proficiency in a language other than English by high school graduation to receive certificates of proficiency. This life-long award serves as a proof-point to colleges or employers of a student's language skills.
Massachusetts' vote to adopt the Seal program puts it ahead of many other states, and now it is up to local school districts to implement it for their students. It also was part of a growing trend across our country — 31 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted these Seal programs, with half of those states coming on board in the last two years.
As a language proficiency assessment provider, Avant Assessment has seen the growth in these Seal programs first-hand. Demand for tests to demonstrate language proficiency has skyrocketed. And we are increasingly being asked to provide tests for a wider array of languages. Just this year, Avant unveiled a new test for the 30,000 Polish language students to prove their proficiency — the first test of its kind in the country.
The increase in students who learn second languages, and the desire of companies to hire those that do, will continue to create a demand for these languages to be taught — and tested — in schools across the country. Massachusetts is putting its students in a position to thrive in this new environment.
There's little doubt there will be a time in the near future when it won't be notable for U.S. gold medal winners to conduct their interviews in multiple languages. It will be notable when they don't.
David Bong is the Founder and CEO of Avant Assessment, a leading language proficiency assessment provider.